17
Mar

By: Billings Gazette, March 17, 2017

During the week that American journalists celebrate openness in government, the Montana House passed a bill that includes spending $100,000 of our tax money to fight disclosure of public documents in court.

 That would be a tremendous waste and misuse of public money. The documents at issue were requested from state Sen. Jennifer Fielder and Legislative Services more than a year ago, and have yet to be released.

The obvious solution is to release the lawfully requested public documents. Then there’s no need of public cash to “defend” against the request.

This onerous appropriation was inserted in the supplemental appropriation bill in Senate Finance and Claims Committee on March 8, despite “no” votes from Sens. Mary Caferro, Mary McNally, Lea Whitford and Cynthia Wolken, approved by the Senate on March 11 and by the House on Thursday.

The amendment adjusted the Legislative Services supplemental appropriation for the year ending June 30, to allocate $100,000 for a contract with the attorney general’s office to defend a lawsuit that was filed recently because public information requested a year ago has not been disclosed. A legislative attorney told the Senate committee that the organization requesting the email is being charged for the Legislative Services Division’s costs of providing them.

Because the lawsuit appropriation isn’t a distinct line item, it’s unclear whether Gov. Steve Bullock can veto it. If he can, he should.

Meanwhile, Legislative Services can avoid public expense by complying with the lawful public records request that should already have been resolved.